Ascent of Lost Peak on 2021-03-06

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, March 6, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Lost Peak
    Elevation:8464 ft / 2579 m

Ascent Trip Report

Lost Peak (8,464ft), First Winter Ascent

Eric and Luke

March 6-7, 2021

32 miles snowmobiling, 24 miles skiing

I’d recently skied in to the Pasayten to climb Ptarmigan Peak and it looked like conditions would be good to return for some more peakbagging. There are a half dozen Bulger Peaks in the area that I’m trying to climb in winter, and they all looked to have stable snow conditions.

I’d climbed Lost Peak twice before, in June 2018 approaching from Monument Creek and September 2020 approaching from Billy Goat Pass. I couldn’t find reports of winter ascents of Lost Peak, so it was unclear what the ideal winter route would be. I’d considered approaching from Billy Goat and doing a big spiral up to Cougar Lake, up Ptarmigan creek, and through Butte Pass to access it from the north. That route avoids avy terrain above treeline, but is around 45 miles so kind of long.

The approach from Monument Creek requires crossing Eureka Creek, which could be difficult in winter, and traverses a lot of steep terrain to get to Pistol Pass. It also requires going up and over Pistol Pass twice (on the way in and the way out), which would add a lot of time.

Finally, there was a tantalizing and perhaps possible approach via Billy Creek on the east I was considering. When I’d climbed Lost in September I remembered looking down the Billy Creek drainage and thinking that looked like a doable approach. I couldn’t find reports of anyone doing it, but the route would follow the trail from Billy Goat trailhead to Drake creek, go down the abandoned Drake Creek trail, follow the narrow Lost River canyon upstream a bit, then ascend the Billy Creek drainage and a ridge to Point 7851 and then the summit from there. This would be the shortest route from a trailhead to get Lost Peak, and required less elevation gain than the other options.

I had scouted the abandoned trail down Drake Creek to the Lost River back in September, and remembered the Lost River above the confluence had been completely dry in a wide open bed. There was some uncertainty upstream, though, since the topo map showed a very narrow canyon. In fact, the main trail avoids this canyon by going over Lucky Pass, so it could be tricky. Satellite images from mid summer showed the river flowing, but I suspected since it was dry in the fall it would stay dry in the winter until the spring melts filled it up, so it may still be easy travel in early March.

The previous weekend I’d taken a picture from Lucky Pass at the upper half of the Billy Creek drainage and it looked like it would work. There was still uncertainty in the lower part of the drainage, if any cliff bands didn’t show up on topo maps or google earth.

The other advantage of this route was that Alden and I had just set a skin track in to Drake Creek the previous weekend en route to climbing Ptarmigan Peak. Minimal new snow had fallen since then, so following that track would speed things up. Also, I was now familiar with the 16-mile snowmobile approach to the Billy Goat trailhead, having already done it twice, and knew exactly where the sidehilling areas were where I’d need to tow a passenger.

We settled on the Billy Creek route as an overnight trip, and met up at the eightmile sno park Friday night.

By 1:30am Saturday morning we had the sled loaded up and were heading up Eightmile Road. The road was smooth and travel was fast. I could average 30mph on the groomed sections and 20mph on the ungroomed sections. By about mile 14 I reached the sidehilling part and rigged up the tow setup to tow Luke. I made it through slowly, but on the other end Luke had to let go since I had sped up then slowed down too much that slack developed in the rope that got tangled up. So for future reference a very steady speed is important for towing.

We finished the tow to the lower trailhead by 2:45am and were soon packed up and moving. The last half mile to the upper trailhead required too steep sidehilling for me but it was quick to skin up.

My old skin tracks were still visible and we made efficient time up the trail. Since last weekend the area must have gone through a big melt-freeze cycle and the southwest facing traverse was very icy. We actually took skis off and continued in crampons for a few steep bits just before Eightmile Pass.

We made the pass by 5:45am and it was already starting to get light out. The pass area had a bit of dust on crust and was lower angle so we put skis back on there. It was fun gliding down the skin track towards Drake Creek, with only minimal scooting. Just before the creek we diverged from the skin track to take a shortcut down Jinks Creek.

Luke led the way weaving through the burned out dense trees on icy snow. We eventually reached Drake Creek and the progress was a bit easier. The creek was mostly covered in pillows of snow and we stayed pretty much on the creek until we got forced left at a steep area.

We traversed steep open northwest-facing slopes and were happy for the stable snow. Though it looked like earlier in the week a bunch of big loose wet slides had come down on south facing aspects on the other side of the drainage.

We kept descending as the snow turned to slush, but at one point got cliffed out by a lower canyon and had to boot back up to the trail. The trail is actually not that bad, and there is evidence of occasional maintenance of trees being cut out. By 10am we made the final icy turns down to the Lost River confluence. Drake Creek had taken much longer than expected with the icy conditions and route-finding issues, but I guess that’s the nature of exploring new places in the winter.

As hoped-for, the Lost River was dry and covered in snow. In fact, it was like a super highway compared to Drake Creek. We easily skinned up the flat, wide, and smooth river bed, admiring awesome cliffs and ice on the west and many old loose wet slides on the east wall. At times we followed lynx tracks, and the area felt very remote for winter time. The gorge gradually narrowed and open water started below pinnacle creek. But there were always wide enough slopes on the side to get around. We continued up the river until it opened back up to a wide treed area at the base of Billy Creek.

It was noon and we stopped for a lunch break. We had toyed with the idea of carrying over Lost to other objectives, but given the difficult and slow travel conditions we opted to set up camp there and focus on tagging Lost before sunset and getting back to camp. Lost was still about 4,700ft above us, so would take some time, and there was uncertainty in whether the route above would work or cliff out.

We ditched our overnight gear and I led the way up Billy Creek. The snow was breakable crust and I was not looking forward to skiing back down. The lower drainage was wide and low angle but it soon narrowed to an interesting deep canyon with cliffs on the sides. This would not be a great place to be stuck if the snow weren’t stable, but one reason we chose this route was because the snow was very stable at all elevations.

The canyon was very fun, weaving around corners, passing interesting ice caves, and looking up at deep snow pillows resting on ledges. We occasionally had to pass avy debris from old loose wet slides on south faces, but it was always manageable on the powdery north aspects.

Around 5,100ft we left the canyon following a subsidiary drainage to the south, then gained the treed low-angle ridge coming down from the east of point 7851. The shaded relief map showed all low-angle terrain on the ridge, though these maps can often be deceiving and miss steep gendarmes on ridges. However, I had taken pictures of this upper ridge the previous week and knew it was in fact all low angle.

Above about 6,300ft we finally reached some more skiable snow, with several inches of powder on top of the crust. The ridge was generally very open glades in the trees and promised to be a fun descent. I soon got great views of Lost Peak, but then it started snowing hard and visibility dropped.

As we emerged above treeline the snow and wind miraculously relented. I noticed huge cornices on the ridge south to Three Pinnacles, but our route up was cornice free. The ridge got scoured down to rock around 7,600ft and we switched to crampons for the final bit. We carried skies and kicked steps up steeply to the summit of Point 7851, then took some time to plan the rest our route.

The ridge up to Lost was almost completely scoured down to rock, so there would be no skiing of the summit, unfortunately. We ditched skis and continued up in crampons. It was a bit slow going tiptoeing over icy rocks in crampons, but by 5:30pm I marched up the final steps to the snow-covered summit.

The setting sun in the west made for brilliant lighting on the surrounding peaks, which were passing in and out of clouds. Amazingly there was absolutely no wind and it wasn’t actually very cold, probably in the upper teens. This was a far cry from last weekend when I’d summited Ptarmigan just after sunset in single digit temperatures and ferocious wind.

I located the summit cairn just barely sticking out of the snow and tried in vain to dig out the register, but couldn’t find it.

Luke soon joined and we hung out admiring the sunset and amazing views til around 6pm. We then marched back down in the waning light, reaching our skis just when it became dark enough to turn on headlamps. We downclimbed back down the east ridge to around 7,600ft then put skis on for the start of our 4,000ft descent back to camp. It promised to be a challenge, navigating icy conditions, breakable crust, avy debris, and a narrow canyon, all in the dark after a tiring 16 hours on the move already.

We took our time, making fun turns down the first thousand feet through open trees. Lower down it was interesting that when we moved to the left (north) side of the ridge we found powder, then just 20ft over on the right (south) side it was icy breakable crust. We worked our way down carefully through the breakable crust. I found sometimes a jump turn was the only way to not catch an edge.

Back in the narrow canyon we tried to hug the soft snow on the north aspects, and slowly weaved around the avy debris. Down lower the wide bottom section was a complete sheet of ice and we very slowly side-slipped our way down, eventually reaching camp by 8:30pm for a long 17.5-hour day.

We set up bivy sacks, used some running water from the Lost River for dinner, and were soon asleep.

The next morning we were up and moving by 5am. Interestingly, in the northern night sky we saw what looked like lights from about 20 separate planes flying in a perfect line closely behind each other from west to east. They were much brighter than satellites. They spanned and went completely across the field of view in about 10 seconds and then were gone. I’m perplexed what this was.

We made quick time down the Lost River, then skinned back up Drake Creek. This time we were more carful to follow the trail and avoid the lower canyon. At the icy traverse above Pat Creek we briefly needed crampons, but then were able to skin the rest of the way.

Below Eightmile Pass a short snow squall quickly dropped an inch of snow down, which would be nice for the icy traverse coming up. At the pass the sun popped back out and we switched to ski mode.

I led the way traversing the icy slopes for a ways, but for a brief part it got icy enough to warrant crampons. Below 5,200ft we had a fun ski all the way back to the snowmobile, though.

Surprisingly there were actually two other skiers there! They had snowmobiled in for a day trip and were skiing laps on some of the nearby faces above the trailhead. I think they were equally surprised to see our snowmobile back in there. I actually was very relieved to have other people back in there, especially expert snowmobilers, just in case something went wrong with my snowmobile.

We rigged up the tow setup and I tried to be more careful towing Luke to avoid slack in the rope (slack probably still happened though). We made it around the sidehilling sections then loaded both back sitting on the seat. The ride out went fast and we made it back to the sno park by 2pm. This time there were a dozen other vehicles there. I hadn’t seen vehicles the other three times I’d been there this winter, but perhaps that’s because I had always arrived late and left early, and it’s not likely to see other people between 9pm-2am. We were soon packed up and heading home at a reasonable hour.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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